Creating a Dialogue Across Borders: Social Media Advocacy with One Day Seyoum by Leah Yohannes (A’21)

by tuftsigl
Aug 18

“There isn’t an avenue to address your qualm and it’s by design. The system was not intended for that, there was never a democratic rule of law. Anyone can be arrested, and you don’t have the right to advocate for your child or family. That’s how they always meant for it to function.”

Spoken by a panelist during an online event on the future of Eritrea, this statement speaks to the political environment of Eritrea today. It is one of the root causes of why the United Nations estimates that nearly 5,000 Eritreans flee the country every month, making it one of the fastest emptying countries in the world.

For the government of Eritrea, and it supporters, the mindset that human rights should take a back seat to security concerns has justified years of political imprisonment and censorship.
This way of thinking sits on the foundation of a false narrative of self-reliance and the fear of an ever-looming, yet amorphous, threat.

Much of the work that One Day Seyoum (ODS) does is to counter this mindset by providing a platform for survivors to share their stories and for experts to provide overwhelming evidence to counter the government’s assertions and to demonstrate the oppressive nature of the current government’s policies. The work that ODS does is multi-faceted and encompasses everything from refugee advocacy and social media campaigning to lobbying. As an intern through the IGL’s Oslo Scholars Program, my work has been primarily communications oriented. I first heard about the organization through one of their successful social media campaigns, so being able to plan and launch similar campaigns myself has been great.

Most recently, the social media team planned a campaign around the anniversary of the Eritrean-Ethiopian 2018 Peace Accords. The signing of the peace accords is widely considered one of the biggest political successes for both world leaders, culminating in President Abiy’s Nobel Peace Prize win in 2019. Two years later though, virtually none of the conditions in Eritrea have changed. Personally, I found the experience of engaging with the One Day Seyoum audience during the event via the social media platforms and live discussions to be really valuable. I feel like I genuinely benefitted from listening to the open dialogue that occurred between our panelists, both Eritrean and Ethiopian. That being said, the event also revealed how contentious politics between and among groups in both Eritrea and Ethiopia can often be. I feel like all of the interns found the event to be a learning experience in difficult conversations.

The work environment as an ODS intern has been amazing. It has been refreshing to work with such a motivated, hard-working team. Working with a young team has allowed us to be more experimental/non-traditional with the kind of ways we choose to engage a younger audience on social media. For example, we are currently trying use Tiktok for one of our campaigns. Additionally, our media outreach planning has allowed me to bring East African journalists, influencers, brands, and artists into the workplace and contribute my ideas to our work.

Overall, I have gotten to see firsthand how collaborative the community around Eritrean human rights activism is through ODS’s network of support both online, through social media, and in-person through Zoom calls. Moving forward, I am excited to see how much more One Day Seyoum is able to accomplish.